The Importance of Physical Activity to Vital Aging

Regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging. It can help delay, prevent, or manage many chronic diseases we might face after 50.

In a study published in JAMA Network Open, they asked more than 315,000 U.S. adults — between ages 50 and 71 — about their physical activity at four different points in their lives: when they were 15-18 years, 19-29 years, 35-39 years and 40-61 years.

People who said they exercised for 2-8 hours a week at each time period had a 29-36% lower risk of dying from any cause during the study’s 20-year period, compared to people who rarely or never exercised. They also lowered their risk of dying from heart disease by up to 42% and cancer by up to 14%, compared to inactive people. The more people exercised, the greater their risk reductions.

Weren’t active in your younger years? That’s OK! You can still see these health benefits by starting a consistent exercise routine now.

The study showed that people who were not active when they were younger but who increased their exercise levels after their 40s also showed declines in their risk of dying earl — a similar drop of 32-35% compared to people who didn’t exercise. Drops in heart disease and cancer risk were also similar to those of the steady exercisers.

The World Health Organization recommends that older adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (aka, heart pumping! exercise) and 2+ days of muscle-strengthening activities each week.

Sounds like a lot of time, right? Well, it can actually be quite manageable. 150 minutes is 2.5 hours, or about how long you might spend watching your favorite movie. And, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can spread it across 5 days for 30 minutes each. There are many ways to get moving—find what you enjoy! Join a walking group, work in the garden, or go on a hike or bike ride.

In addition to light movement, try to prioritize strength exercises at least 2 days a week to improve balance and mobility.

Also know that any amount of physical activity can offer some health benefits. Can’t get in 2.5 hours this week? Take just 30 minutes to move your body. Do it for your 100-year-old self!